Monday, June 5, 2017

A Few Reasons Why One Should Visit and Go Back to Venice, Italy

As I was writing this article, my heart missed a beat, and the dream I just woke up with kept on crippling in my thoughts.  In my dream, I was in Italy, alone somewhere, lost, flashes of conversations with Filipinos to get instructions on how to go and meet with my family were vague.

One thing is clear though, if ever I get lost in an island or somewhere, it has to be in Venice.

Venice, the floating city, "the city of mirrors, the city of mirages," "an orange gem resting on a blue glass plate," "Italy's mask," are just some famous words meant to describe this group of small islands.

The historic center is a tightly integrated set of 117 small islands connected by over 410 bridges. The entire center of the city only covers about 725 hectares, which is 3 times bigger than Bonifacio Global Center (BGC) in Taguig City (Philippines) or a bit more than twice the size of Central Park in New York, but it is a blend of art that has no equal in the world.

I couldn't possibly imagine the scale of undertaking to build such glorious buildings on top of the sandy marsh the island is built upon.

So I did a quick study on Venice's history and as it turned out the lagoons have been the Venetians' refuge from barbaric invasions, this was on 400 A.D.  With the fall of Roman Empire, (talks of Rome), there had been an influx of German barbarians, drawn to the massive wealth the empire has.

The citizens from the mainland have gone into chaos and fled to these islands in the lagoon, some would come back in the mainland but again were driven off these islands until they decided to stay, since they couldn't be followed.

With the invasion of Attila the Hun, the devastation his forces caused on the mainland were enough to help the inhabitants finally realize that to try to continue to live on the mainland was no longer possible. In fact, many of the refugees found their new lives in the lagoon more favorable than they had expected.

But what mesmerizes me was how such gigantic structures were built and why are there rumors that it is going to sink in the future.

Will you believe me if I report that the initial foundation of these olden buildings were wooden stakes?

Yes!  Wood, driven into the sandy ground. The wood was gathered in forest far away in the mountains of Slovenia, Croatia, and Montenegro. The timber was then transported by water to Venice.

Wood?  You might think this would cause the tilting and submerging of some  parts of lands, as I actually did.

You might wonder, wood rots. How could the Venetians use vertical wood pilings in the salt water for a foundation system without the wood rotting?

Here is the science behind it. The wood is not exposed to oxygen as it is submerged in the water and mud, thus, the result, the wood does not rot. In fact, the wood becomes petrified due to a constant flow of mineral rich water around and through it. As a result the wood becomes a hardened stone-like structure.  It was made stone-like and became stronger over the centuries.

Once all wood pilings are driven side by side into the mud of the lagoon as the initial foundation, they are then cut level where horizontal timber are laid. A stone foundation is then placed on top of the horizontal timbers. From there the building is built using wood framing techniques or brick. Who would ever have thought that the city of Venice with all its canals and gondolas was built on a foundation of wood?

This floating gem of a city though archaic have withstood wars and hundreds of storms yet till now it remained as majestic as ever.  I felt sad when my brother told me about what happens to Venice when it's hit by unsurmountable amount of rains, the city submerges and wooden planks were made available for impassable streets and stores would just close.

So, it is best to come here during spring to summer that's April to September.  These are high tourist season, however you can still come until November, as September to November has lesser visitors due to the lowering down of temperature.

Coming from our first island tour, Murano Island, we took the  vaporetto no. 52.  The ride took about 35 minutes, with departures every 10 minutes.  You can also go with no. 23, about 30 minutes, departures every 20 minutes.  My advice is to ask the drivers where their stops are, to be sure.

Read on our Murano Island tour here.

Once docked, we got to explore the busy jump off, where everyone (tourists for that matter) were at awe of the hurly burly and of course amazed by the old yet colorful buildings, with some windows adorned with late flowers of spring.

We came from lunch and we didn't manage to get desserts as we planned to get some at this particular island.  Hence, my girls stopped and bought gelato.  Above is a gelato booth (shaped like half of a gondola).  Gelato is a no-brainer, you can always, always, see one in every corner and it costs cheap from 1.50 euros to 3 euros.  Each having their own specialty.

While finishing their gelato, we walked along with the crowd and everyone seemed to be headed the same way, to the plaza - St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco).

Below are just some of the famous landmarks I want to highlight here.

The Bridge of Sighs

Not too many sight-seers now about the significance of the bridge you'll overlook when going up to the biggest plaza in Venice.  The Bridge of Sighs is a beautiful sight, stretching high above the canal. It is generally known as one of the finest examples of bridge architecture in the world.

Italian Renaissance in style, the 11 meter (36ft) wide bridge is made of white limestone and Sculpture on the bridge of sighs, two windows with stone bars sit at the summit of the enclosed bridge. The bridge took about two years to complete, with construction starting in 1600.

Be sure to notice the many mascarons - sculptures depicting sad or angry faces - as you cross under the bridge on a gondola ride.

Want to know why it's called as such?

The bridge was intended to connect the Old Prison and interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace to the New Prison, which was situated directly across the river.

According to the books, there are a few theories as to how the bridge got its name. The first one involves the prisoners that walked across the bridge on their way to the executioner. The prisoners would "sigh" as they crossed the bridge, probably catching their last glimpse of the outside world, many believed.

Even though by the time the bridge was built summary executions at the hands of the inquisitors had ceased, many prisoners probably did cross the bridge and may have not seen freedom again... at least not for many years.

Another story says that if a couple kisses under this Bridge of Sighs, while drifting below on a gondola at sunset, they will enjoy eternal love. Thus, the "sighs" are said to come from lovers who are overwhelmed by the romance of the whole scene.

St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco)

Considered one of the finest squares in the world and certainly Venice's prime attraction, it is surrounded on three sides by the stately arcades of public buildings and on the fourth, by Basilica di San Marco's riot of domes and arches and the soaring St. Mark's campanile.

On the bank of the grand canal, first you will come upon the "molo",the pier for the great number of gondolas and vaporetti which stop at the square.

 As you keep walking you'll come onto the piazzetta, the square where you will find the two columns where the two symbols of Venice: St Mark's Lion and the statue of St Theodore, the patron saint of Venice, keep watch over the city. In the past, this square was used for public executions.

At the far end of the Plaza adjacent to the basilica is the Ala Napolonica or the Napoleon's Wing.

Built after the Napoleonic conquest, when the New Procuratie became the seat of the Royal Palace of the new French court and, it was decided to demolish the pre-existing Sansovini church of St. Geminian, which at the time connected the two procuratie.  The decision for the reconstruction of the room was made by Napoleon Buonaparte, that segment of the building was named Ala Napoleonica .

In fact Napoleon did not want to demolish the church of San Geminiano but the viceroy Eugène, who for the dignity of his residence demanded the construction of a monumental staircase and a grand ballroom.

Today, the building is occupied by the Museo Correr, also known as "The Museum of the City and Civilization of Venice."

Turn 90 degrees to your right, and you'll be looking at the long wing of the Procuratie Vecchie--originally occupied by the Procurators of St. Mark, the highest officials of the Venetian Republic other than the Doge (Duke).

The Procuratie Nuovo, which provided more offices and was built in the mid-seventeenth century; the National Library of St. Mark's; the Museum of Archaeology; and the Correr Museum is adjacent to it.

The clock tower to the right of Quadri is named the Torre dell'Orologio and has been ringing out the hours since 1499. The archway beneath the clock opens onto the Mercerie, a series of interconnecting shopping streets that lead to the Rialto Bridge.

Basilica di San Marco

Considered one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture in the world, the Basilica di San Marco is known for its opulent design and gilded interior mosaics, and nicknamed Chiesa d'Oro, "Church of Gold". Its design is a mixture of eastern and western architecture styles resulting in a St. Mark and the angels,

The basilica was commissioned in 1071 by doge Domenico Contarini, this amazing church is built in Venetian-Byzantine style, a mixture of western and eastern styles. Because of its  grandeur it has been the seat of the Patriarch of Venice, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice, since 1807.

Looking closely at it's facade, you'll notice the three registers - lower, upper, and domes. The lower consists of five arched portals - the center one slightly larger - surrounded by marble columns. Large bronze doors lead into the narthex. Above the lateral portals are mosaics depicting the stories of St. Mark's relics; the one on the left is the oldest one and depicts the St. Mark's Basilica as it looked like in the middle of the twelfth century. The mosaics in the upper level arches depict stories from the life of Jesus; the one above the main portal is the gilded mosaic known as "The Last Judgment".

Above the large central window is the Winged Lion - symbol of Venice - and on the central balcony are statues of Greek Horses, installed in 1254. The horses were originally displayed at the Hippodrome of Constantinople but are now in the basilica's museum. The ones on the facade are replicas. The statues at the top of the central portal depict Saint Mark and the angels.

The square was flagged with tourists from all over the world, it's also fascinating to watch these group of people, pose, talk and look for each other, amongst the crowd.

 Campanile di San Marco

The Campanile di San Marco, or Belltower of St. Mark's, has stood for more than a thousand years and have been fixed many times and then rebuilt after it's great collapse in 1902

This massive 324-foot (99-metre) bell tower of the basilica, is a free-standing, slightly rectangular structure sheathed in Venetian red-clay brick.

Soaring above the pinnacles of San Marco, it dominates the townscape and is visible for miles across the lagoon. The city council decided immediately to rebuild it around a core of reinforced concrete, and the work was completed by 1912. Today an elevator brings tourists to the belfry, which is made of white Istrian limestone and is open on all four sides, affording a spectacular panorama of the island, the mainland, and the sea.  It's a bit expensive though at 8 Euros per person.

This beautifully laded structure is a product of the Renaissance period. A perfect merging of Venetian Gothic style.

The façades, with a total length of nearly 152 m (500 ft), have open arcades in the two lower storeys, and the third storey was rebuilt after a fire in the sixteenth century, so as to extend over the arcades. This upper storey is faced with white and rose-coloured marble, resembling ornate windows and finished with a lace-like parapet of oriental cresting.

The arcade columns, which originally stood on a stylobate of three steps, now rise from the ground without bases, and the sturdy continuous tracery of the second tier of arcades lends an appearance of strength to the open arches. The capitals of the columns, particularly the angle capital which was eulogised by Ruskin in The Stones of Venice, are celebrated for the delicate carving in low-grained marble.

The whole scheme of columned and pointed arcades, with its combination of carved capitals and long horizontal lines of open tracery, makes it Venetian Gothic.

Let me now take you to the small streets and multiple bridges of Venice.

Buildings either render commercial or residential. As typical of any Italian buildings, the ground level is being used as restaurants and stores, while the floors above are dwellings for both residents and tourists.

You will never get hungry even if you get lost for a day in any street.

Typical "eskinita"or alley.


Small restaurants and cafe, extend on the streets to accommodate diners or coffee drinkers.

Stores so welcoming, you can't help but take a picture and shop.

If you haven't known aside from deli's they also have tapas bars, known to the locals as cicheti, where you can enjoy small snacks and some wine.

And these too...

My daughter with my father posing outside a Ferrari store.

You can't live Venice without buying something from the street stalls or the merkatini, make sure to buy their famous masks, after all, Venice is quite known for their masks.

You can also find refuge from the heat or the rain, or the crowd at the churches which you can find at some corner.

The Grand Canal, overlooking from the Rialto Bridge or Ponte Rialto.

Ponte Rialto

The Rialto Bridge's 24-foot arch was designed to allow passage of galleys, and the massive structure was built on some 12,000 wooden pilings that still support the bridge more than 400 years later. The architect, Antonio da Ponte, competed against such eminent designers as Michelangelo and Palladio for the contract.

The bridge has three walkways: two along the outer balustrades, and a wider central walkway leading between two rows of small shops that sell jewelry, linens, Murano glass, and other items for the tourist trade.

The stair going to the top of Rialto Bridge.

The photos below are my snapshots from our vaporetti tour back to the mainland. 


Although I wasn't able to feet more like the Venetians for sometime, just being there inside this magical postcards is enough for me to say, I'm ready to die, or am I?

I guess not, cause I want to come back not only as a tourist but to live amongst them and act as locals even for three days or so, until I get to visit every alley and eat and drink like the Venetians and carry on it's wonderful echo trough out Europe.

Don't sink yet Venice, I'm coming back!  Arrivederci!


Where we had a Venetian lunch:

Art Cafe and Food, Ristorante, Murano, Venice


I would love to hear your thoughts on my post, care for a comment?